Helen Jacobs

Helen Hull Jacobs (August 6, 1908 – June 2, 1997) was an American tennis player who won nine Grand Slam titles. In 1936 she was ranked No. 1 in singles by A. Wallis Myers.

Helen Jacobs
Helen Jacobs.jpg
Jacobs with the Wightman Cup, Wimbledon 1934
Full nameHelen Hull Jacobs
Country (sports) United States
Born(1908-08-06)August 6, 1908
Globe, Arizona, U.S.
DiedJune 2, 1997(1997-06-02) (aged 88)
East Hampton, New York, U.S.
Int. Tennis HoF1962 (member page)
Career record0–0
Highest rankingNo. 1 (1936, A. Wallis Myers)
Grand Slam Singles results
French OpenF (1930, 1934)
WimbledonW (1936)
US OpenW (1932, 1933, 1934, 1935)
Career record0–0
Grand Slam Doubles results
French OpenF (1934)
WimbledonF (1932, 1936, 1939)
US OpenW (1932, 1934, 1935)
Grand Slam Mixed Doubles results
US OpenW (1934)
Team competitions
Wightman Cup(1927, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1939)

Early lifeEdit

Jacobs was born in Globe, Arizona, and was Jewish.[1][2] Her parents, Roland (a mining executive, and then a newspaper advertising executive) and Eula Jacobs, moved the family to San Francisco in 1914.[3] She was the most well-known Jewish female player of the interwar period.[4]

Tennis careerEdit

Jacobs had a powerful serve and overhead smash and a sound backhand, but she never learned to hit a flat forehand, despite her friendship, and some coaching, from Bill Tilden.[5] Like both her Wightman Cup coach Hazel Hotchkiss Wightman and her archrival Helen Wills Moody, she grew up in Berkeley, California, learned the game at the Berkeley Tennis Club, pursued her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and was inducted into the Cal Sports Hall of Fame.[6]

Jacobs won five Grand Slam singles titles and was an eleven-time Grand Slam singles runner-up. Six of those losses were to Helen Wills Moody. Jacobs's only victory over Moody was in the final of the 1933 U.S. Championships. Moody retired from the match with a back injury while trailing 3–0 in the third set to a chorus of boos from the audience who believed that Moody quit the match merely to deny Jacobs the satisfaction of finishing out her victory. It was reported by many witnesses after the match that Moody still planned to play her doubles match later that afternoon but was advised against it. Years later, Moody confirmed her injury, saying, "My back is kind of funny. The vertebra between the fourth and fifth disk is thin. When the disk slips around, it's intolerable. It rained the whole week before that final match. I lay in bed, and that was bad because it stiffened worse. I just couldn't play any longer, but I didn't say anything because it would look like an excuse." Jacobs almost defeated Moody again when she had match point at 6–3, 3–6, 5–3 in the 1935 Wimbledon Championships singles final but a mishit on a short lob, which she decided to let bounce, cost her the point and four games later the match.[7][8] In the 1938 Wimbledon final against Moody, Jacobs turned her ankle at 4–4 in the first set and hobbled around the court for the remainder of the match, with Moody winning the final eight games and the second set lasting a mere eight minutes. When asked after the match why she did not accept Hazel Wightman's on-court advice to quit the match after the injury, Jacobs said that continuing was the sporting thing to do so that Moody could enjoy the full taste of victory, an obvious allusion to Moody's retirement from the 1933 U.S. final. Moody said, "I was very sorry about Helen's ankle. But it couldn't be helped, could it? I thought there was nothing I could do but get it over as quickly as possible." In total, Jacobs lost 14 of the 15 career singles matches she played against Moody.

Jacobs won three Grand Slam women's doubles titles and one in mixed doubles. She was the runner-up at six Grand Slam women's doubles tournaments and one Grand Slam mixed doubles tournament. She won the singles and women's doubles titles at the Italian Championships in 1934.

Jacobs, in 1933.

According to A. Wallis Myers and John Olliff of The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, Jacobs was ranked in the world top 10 from 1928 through 1939 (no rankings issued from 1940 through 1945), reaching a career high of World No. 1 in those rankings in 1936.[9] With the exceptions of 1930 and 1938, Jacobs was included in the year-end top 10 rankings by the United States Tennis Association from 1927 through 1941. She was the top-ranked U.S. player from 1932 through 1935.[10]

Jacobs was a member of the U.S. Wightman Cup team from 1927 through 1937 and again in 1939. Her lifetime record was 19–11.

In 1933, Jacobs became the first woman to break with tradition by wearing man-tailored shorts at Wimbledon.

While she was still playing tennis, Jacobs became a writer. Her first books were Modern Tennis (1933) and Improve Your Tennis (1936). She also wrote fictional works, such as Storm Against the Wind (1944). Her autobiography Beyond the Game appeared in 1936. In 1949, she published Gallery of Champions, a collection of biographies of female players, which she dedicated to Molla Mallory.[11]

Honors and awardsEdit

Jacobs was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1933. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1962. In 2015, she was inducted into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.[12]

World War II and personal lifeEdit

Jacobs served as a commander in the U.S. Navy intelligence during World War II, one of only five women to achieve that rank in the Navy.[7]

Long known to have been lesbian, she was in a relationship from 1934 to 1943 with Henrietta Bingham, daughter of Louisville publisher and ambassador to England Robert Bingham.[13] Her partner in later life was Virginia Gurnee.[7] Jacobs died of heart failure in East Hampton, New York on June 2, 1997, where she had been living.[14][15]

Grand Slam finalsEdit

Singles (5 titles, 11 runners-up)Edit

Result Year Championship Surface Opponent Score
Loss 1928 U. S. National Championships Grass   Helen Wills 2–6, 1–6
Loss 1929 Wimbledon Championships Grass   Helen Wills 1–6, 2–6
Loss 1930 French International Championships Clay   Helen Wills Moody 2–6, 1–6
Loss 1932 Wimbledon Championships Grass   Helen Wills Moody 3–6, 1–6
Win 1932 U. S. National Championships Grass   Carolin Babcock 6–2, 6–2
Win 1933 U. S. National Championships (2) Grass   Helen Wills Moody 8–6, 3–6, 3–0 retired
Loss 1934 French International Championships Clay   Margaret Scriven 5–7, 6–4, 1–6
Loss 1934 Wimbledon Championships Grass   Dorothy Round 2–6, 7–5, 3–6
Win 1934 U. S. National Championships (3) Grass   Sarah Palfrey 6–1, 6–4
Loss 1935 Wimbledon Championships Grass   Helen Wills Moody 3–6, 6–3, 5–7
Win 1935 U. S. National Championships (4) Grass   Sarah Palfrey Fabyan 6–2, 6–4
Win 1936 Wimbledon Championships Grass   Hilde Krahwinkel Sperling 6–2, 4–6, 7–5
Loss 1936 U. S. National Championships Grass   Alice Marble 6–4, 3–6, 2–6
Loss 1938 Wimbledon Championships Grass   Helen Wills 4–6, 0–6
Loss 1939 U. S. National Championships Grass   Alice Marble 0–6, 10–8, 4–6
Loss 1940 U. S. National Championships Grass   Alice Marble 2–6, 3–6

Women's doubles (3 titles, 6 runner-ups)Edit

Result Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Loss 1931 U. S. National Championships Grass   Dorothy Round   Betty Nuthall
  Eileen Bennett Whittingstall
2–6, 4–6
Loss 1932 Wimbledon Championships Grass   Elizabeth Ryan   Doris Metaxa
  Josane Sigart
4–6, 3–6
Win 1932 U. S. National Championships Grass   Sarah Palfrey   Alice Marble
  Marjorie Morrill
8–6, 6–1
Loss 1934 French International Championships Clay   Sarah Palfrey   Simonne Mathieu
  Elizabeth Ryan
6–3, 4–6, 2–6
Win 1934 U. S. National Championships Grass   Sarah Palfrey   Carolin Babcock
  Dorothy Andrus
4–6, 6–3, 6–4
Win 1935 U. S. National Championships Grass   Sarah Palfrey Fabyan   Carolin Babcock
  Dorothy Andrus
6–4, 6–2
Loss 1936 Wimbledon Championships Grass   Sarah Palfrey Fabyan   Freda James
  Kay Stammers
2–6, 1–6
Loss 1936 U. S. National Championships Grass   Sarah Palfrey Fabyan   Marjorie Gladman Van Ryn
  Carolin Babcock
7–9, 6–2, 4–6
Loss 1939 Wimbledon Championships Grass   Billie Yorke   Alice Marble
  Sarah Palfrey Fabyan
1–6, 0–6

Mixed doubles (1 title, 1 runner-up)Edit

Result Year Championship Surface Partner Opponents Score
Loss 1932 U. S. National Championships Grass   Ellsworth Vines   Sarah Palfrey
  Fred Perry
3–6, 5–7
Win 1934 U. S. National Championships Grass   George Lott   Elizabeth Ryan
  Lester Stoefen
4–6, 13–11, 6–2

Grand Slam singles tournament timelineEdit

(W) Won; (F) finalist; (SF) semifinalist; (QF) quarterfinalist; (#R) rounds 4, 3, 2, 1; (RR) round-robin stage; (Q#) qualification round; (A) absent; (NH) not held. SR=strike rate (events won/competed)

R = tournament restricted to French nationals and held under German occupation.

Tournament 1925 1926 1927 1928 1929 1930 1931 1932 1933 1934 1935 1936 1937 1938 1939 1940 1941 Career SR
Australian Championships A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A A NH 0 / 0
French Championships A A A A A F QF QF SF F SF A QF A A NH R 0 / 7
Wimbledon A A A 3R F QF SF F SF F F W QF F QF NH NH 1 / 12
U.S. Championships 2R A SF F SF A QF W W W W F SF 3R F F SF 4 / 15
SR 0 / 1 0 / 0 0 / 1 0 / 2 0 / 2 0 / 2 0 / 3 1 / 3 1 / 3 1 / 3 1 / 3 1 / 2 0 / 3 0 / 2 0 / 2 0 / 1 0 / 1 5 / 34


  • Modern Tennis (1933)
  • Improve Your Tennis (1936)
  • Beyond the game: an autobiography (1936)
  • "By your leave, sir" : the story of a WAVE (1943)
  • Storm Against the Wind (1944)
  • Laurel for Judy (1945)
  • Adventure in Blue Jeans (1947)
  • Gallery of Champions (1949)
  • Center Court (1950)
  • Proudly she serves! The realistic story of a tennis champion who becomes a Wave (1953)
  • The young sportsman's guide to tennis (1961)
  • Beginner's Guide to Winning Tennis (1961)
  • Judy, Tennis Ace (1961)
  • Better physical fitness for girls (1964)
  • Courage to Conquer (1967)
  • The Tennis Machine (1972)
  • Famous modern American women athletes (1975)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Zuckerman, Bruce; Sclar, Ari F.; Ansell, Lisa (September 21, 2014). "Beyond Stereotypes: American Jews and Sports". Purdue University Press – via Google Books.
  2. ^ "The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on July 10, 1936 · Page 6". Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ Jackson, Kenneth T. (September 21, 2002). "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives: Sports figures". C. Scribner's Sons – via Google Books.
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Obituary: Helen Jacobs
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ a b c "Helen Jacobs, Tennis Champion in the 1930s, Dies at 88". The New York Times. June 4, 1997.
  8. ^ "Mrs. Wills Moody Achieves Her Ambition". Gloucester Citizen. British Newspaper Archive. 6 July 1935. p. 1.
  9. ^ Collins, Bud (2008). The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book. New York, N.Y: New Chapter Press. pp. 576, 695, 701–2. ISBN 978-0-942257-41-0.
  10. ^ United States Tennis Association (1988). 1988 Official USTA Tennis Yearbook. Lynn, Massachusetts: H.O. Zimman, Inc. p. 260.
  11. ^ "Jacobs, Helen Hull". WorldCat.
  12. ^ Jim Buzinski (27 July 2015). "9 inducted into National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame". Outsports.
  13. ^ Bingham, Emily (2015). Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham. New York, N.Y: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 223–266.
  14. ^ Bingham, Emily (June 16, 2015). "Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham". Macmillan – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Wilson, Scott. Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed.: 2 (Kindle Location 23378). McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. Kindle Edition.

External linksEdit